From the Director
I often look at Buddhism through the lens of another culture. I enjoy the elegance of Japanese rituals and the diversity of Chinese cultures. I am drawn to the complexity of Tibetan practice and Indian metaphysics. While I walk down many of these aesthetic avenues, I don't think they are necessary to understand, practice, and experience the core truths of Buddhism, particularly Zen.
The basics of Zen, the Marks of Existence, The Four Nobel Truths, and the Precepts, along with the Kamala Sutra, go a long way toward providing a path to alleviate pain, particularly with inner-city youth. To that end, I have created a curriculum that doesn't require the student to access the dharma through an Asian lens, just as initially, the Chinese were not required to experience the truths of the historical Buddha through the lens of first century India.
Our students have little use for the robes and ceremonies and are often more concerned with getting a job and survival on the streets. While I, along with other Zen clergy, have my own Dalai Lama story, the participants in our program often don't know the difference between the Dalai Lama and a Peruvian Lama. They certainly don't get status standing around the water cooler sharing what they learned in Dharmsala. Yet, our students have little difficulty in grasping the importance of meditation, the truth of constant change, and the fact of transitory joy and ongoing dissatisfaction.
In many respects, the issue is class. Most non-ethnic American Buddhists are part of the upper-middle class. Our students are not; consequently, they often lack access to Zen basics or a sangha in which to practice. The struggle for economic opportunity and acceptance by the majority society is not guaranteed; consequently, my focus is on freedom and efficacy. I emphasize the Kamala sutra as an antidote to the plethora of isms and ideologies that offer safety in exchange for freedom
This is not to say that I don't enjoy reading theology as well as discussing the sutras. Much can be gained and hopefully, with skillful means integrated into a conversation with a student who is more interested in avoiding gang recruitment than Nagarjuna’s ability to resolve the apparent dualism between the Void/Potentiality and the World of Form.
The psychological insights gained from meditative practice are often more than enough to solve the student's problem. Building on the core Zen teaching, much of what I teach deals with 'growing up' as well as 'waking up.' Blame is slavery. Nobody caused me to feel something. Avoid repetitive thought (worry and regret) and embrace original thought (insight).
Much of what I've mentioned is expressed on our curriculum page in two presentations, Buddhism without Robes and Basic Buddhism. My friendship with Doshin Hannya M.J. Nelson Roshi accessed through the integral Zen link on the Alliance page might be interesting.